This newspaper believes they are best placed to speed up the inoculation of vulnerable people and help bring this awful pandemic to an end.
And it has teamed up with all sister titles across JPI Media to launch a joint call for action as the Prime Minister starts publishing ‘jab by jab’ daily data from this afternoon.
The proactive initiative is in direct response to the concerns of thousands of readers over vaccine arrangements – and the time it will take to build makeshift centres.
But the authorisation – and deployment – of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine offers an opportunity for local pharmacies because it only requires one initial dose, the second coming up to 12 weeks later, and does not have to be stored at low temperatures to be effective.
And the advantages for both the Government – and local communities – appear to be so significant that they need to be taken further into account if 14 million people are to be injected by mid-February, the stated target, before the newly-licensed Moderna vaccine is available for distribution from the Spring onwards.
After all, there are 11,000 local pharmacies across Britain ready, willing and able to assist with this national effort. They have experience of vaccination programmes like winter flu jabs.
Pharmacists have the necessary qualifications – a crucial requirement – and their stores are accessible to most people.
This would be a way of the Government signalling its support for high streets during the latest lockdown and, importantly, it will give local areas a sense of fulfilment in the knowledge that their community is playing its part in the fight to eradicate Covid.
“There are over 11,000 pharmacies. If each of those does 20-a-day that is 1.3 million-a-week extra vaccines that can be provided, very often to those who are hardest to reach,” said Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Sandra Gidley. “Why would any government not want to do that?”
We agree – and we look forward to Health Secretary Matt Hancock showing far greater ambition, and urgency, than his initial promise to involve just 200 community outlets. As he says himself, pharmacies “are highly engaged in their local community, often more local than any other healthcare setting”.
But we have one further request of the Government and that is to provide far more easy-to-access information on the vaccine programme to families, particularly the elderly and clinically vulnerable looking for the reassurance that they’ve not been forgotten.